Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Filled with Anxiety
Today we start the downward slope to Paul finishing up his letter. But before he?s done he wants to focus on some real-world examples of what he?s been talking about, and give four pieces of advise that all Christians should memorize and take to heart. We?ll get to the first one today.
You can really feel the affection Paul has for his friends in Philippi. In just one verse he uses six adjectives to describe them:
- Dearly loved
- Longed for
- Dear friends
As clearly as Paul loves these people?and as much as he sees them as the outgrowth of what the Lord is doing through him (?joy and crown?), he wants to focus them back on the reason he wrote: to remain steadfast in the gospel. As we?ve seen, Paul?s two major purposes for writing the letter was to not let internal squabbles or position or external threats from legalists, get in the way of their real purpose: to spread the life of Jesus that came through the death of Jesus.
The words ?stand firm? should remind us of Ephesians 6, where Paul uses the word repeatedly when describing Christians as soldiers in God?s army. Roman solders were famous for standing firm and not retreating from an enemy. Many times it was because they feared their commanders more than their enemy. Though we know our commander-in-chief won?t punish us for not being strong, we should have more awe, reverence, and fear of Him than we do of the enemy who tries to draw us off by fleshly desires or push us off by external threats.
It?s like this bumper sticker I?ve seen recently: let the main thing be the main thing. The gospel is our goal: reflecting the character and person of Jesus in such a way that others will fall in love with Him as we have.
The gospel, in fact, is salted all through this section. Two women who had somehow not stood firm, are then called out by the Apostle.
We know absolutely nothing about Eudia or Syntyche. We can deduce that they were leaders in the church, though not specific office holders. This shouldn?t be surprising as the church?s first member was Lydia, followed by a group of ?God-fearing? women. And though not specifically addressed here, this certainly is evidence that the Holy Spirit is gender-blind when it comes to leadership. But the focus here is on a disagreement they were having. Paul ?urges? both of them to agree. The word ?urge? is the same word used of the Holy Spirit: one who comes alongside to help, exhort and comfort. What Paul wants them to do is agree?which is a Greek word that means essentially to ?think the same thing.? This isn?t just a petty personal problem?they are to do this ?in the Lord?. In the context of the verses it appears the disagreement was over how to do the gospel.
Paul next calls in a co-worker to help mediate.
Though we don?t know the identity of this ?true partner? the language suggests not someone from Philippi. If you look at the timeline from the book of Acts, it is likely that this ?true partner? was none other than Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. The Greek word in this context means: ?to take hold together as one.? So you can picture Luke, if that?s the identity of the ?true partner?, pulling these two women aside and insisting that they work out their differences. It?s important because they?ve been true ministry partners (?have contended for the gospel at my side?) and Paul doesn?t want the gospel to suffer because these women can?t get along.
Paul had first hand experience with this. In Acts 15 the Apostle had a severe disagreement with his ministry partner Barnabas. It was so serious that Paul chose another partner and went on without Barnabas. Later Paul and John Mark reconciled?and Paul perhaps sees the importance of focusing on the gospel, rather than our disagreements over how it should be implemented.
He also brings up ?Clement? ? a person we know nothing about, and a bunch of other people who are unnamed. His point is that Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, and the others are all written in the ?book of life??part of God?s kingdom and recipients of eternal life. ?We?re all in this together,? he?s saying. ?We?re all kids of the kingdom so let?s start acting like it.?
So having addressed this situation, Paul begins his conclusion?with some very powerful exhortations?so powerful that we?ll spend a few weeks pondering and applying them. First is the exhortation to rejoice.
I think it?s cool that Paul focuses on joy. Some have called Philippians the book of joy. Paul uses the term 16 times in Philippians. Joy is a uniquely Christian thing. Joy is not dependent on our circumstances or our mood. We have joy because we have Jesus. That?s what ?in the Lord? means. It doesn?t matter if we are having a disagreement with others in the body, it shouldn?t matter if we are going through difficulty and pressure to stop reflecting the character of Christ. In Jesus we can always have joy. Sometimes that joy seems veiled a bit by sorrow, anxiety, hurt or trial. But beneath every difficulty is bedrock of joy and hope. Paul isn?t telling us to always be happy, but he is saying that no matter what difficulty befalls us, we have a Savior who will give us His life forever. Joy can be hidden but it cannot be taken away.
Paul next exhorts us to be ?gracious? to all. The word means: ?equitable, mild, fair, gentle.? I?m pretty sure he is talking to the women who were having an argument, as much as to the Philippians in general. It reminds me of one of Jesus? few autobiographical statements.
Matt. 11:29 ?All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.?
Gentleness isn?t weakness, it is strength under control. We can be very strong, yet come across as very humble and gentle people. By the way, this drives the enemy crazy. Power in his mind is synonymous with anger and authority and brutality, not laying down your life for another and considering others as more important than yourself.
So why does Paul encourage this behavior of joy and graciousness? Because the Lord is near. When Jesus comes back He will deal with His enemies, but the end game is that the character of God, that joyous and gracious character, will fill the earth. Do we want Him to come back in the middle of a dispute between us and a brother or sister? Really?
This idea of being graciousness in the face of the Lord?s soon return reminds me of a parable Jesus told:
Matt. 24:45 ?Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 47 I assure you: He will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says in his heart, ?My master is delayed,? 49 and starts to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 that slave?s master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.?
I share this as a contrast. I?m not saying that if you get into an argument you won?t go to heaven. Please don?t misunderstand. But doing things the world?s way is like the slave who doesn?t care about Jesus or their accountability for their actions but are just in it for them. They exhibit the opposite of graciousness.
So Paul wants his friends to be filled with joy and grace so they have no room for something else: anxiety.
6 ? 7
Worry and anxiety are pretty normal feelings for humans. 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorder?making it the most common mental illness in the United States. But that?s clinical anxiety. General anxiety hits everyone at some time or another. Something happens that we don?t expect or don?t understand and we worry and get fretful. Paul is not saying here that if you worry you are sinning. Some Christians get caught up in that. Did you know that Jesus got anxious?
37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, ?My soul is swallowed up in sorrow?to the point of death.?
Paul too experienced anxiety:
2Cor. 7:5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears inside.
Even the man after God?s own heart, King David, experienced anxiety: Psalm 139:23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
What Paul is saying is that for a Christian ? a person ?in Christ Jesus? (vs 7) there is another path to take when you feel anxious. It is the path of submission to God.
When you are anxious, turn to God in prayer. Paul uses three words for this communication to God: prayer, which is the general sense of focusing on God rather than on the situation. ?Requests? (vs 6) meaning ?entreaty? so it could suggest making the general need known to the Lord. ?Requests? is more specific. What do you want God to do in this situation? So you go to God, tell Him the need and ask Him to do something. Jesus asked that if possible the cup of the crucifixion would pass from Him, but He added ?not My will be done but Your will be done.? Be prepared for God to answer, but maybe not in the way you originally intended but in a way that leads to His good.
Notice too that this prayer should be accompanied by thanksgiving. Why? ?Thanks, God, for bringing me into all this difficulty?? No. ?Thanks Lord for being in control in this difficulty.? With God in control, anxiety can be lessened. It is replaced with peace. God is the God of peace (Gal 5:9). God is not uptight about your situation. Remember: Rom. 8:28 ?We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.?
God?s peace ?guards? our hearts and minds. The Greek word ?guard? means: ?to protect by military guard either in order to prevent hostile invasion or to keep the inhabitants of a besieged city from flight.? There are general three reactions to anxiety-causing events: fight, flight, or freeze. God?s peace, God?s control of our lives, means in the center of our being we can be at rest in the midst of turmoil. We don?t have to run to escape, lash out to compensate, or draw into a deep hole. If we know that God is in control, and it can even help our thoughts to move away from anxiety knowing that He?s got a plan?a plan that the normal human mind simple cannot comprehend.
One person put it this way: ?God calms a troubled situation when explanations fail.?
Our problem is that we 1) fail to bring our anxieties to God, 2) fail to be specific with Him and 3) fail to look for the good God is working through Christ. Remember: even if the worst happens, if your worst fear comes true, God is still in charge and still working that situation for His good. This doesn?t mean our lives will be free from anxiety or if you are anxious you are displeasing God. Psalm 139 that we looked at earlier goes on to say: ?See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.? That word ?offensive? means: ?broken?. When difficulties ?break? us, don?t neglect to ask God to lead you in a way that leads you to His kingdom way, His everlasting way.
So why do you suppose Paul wrote this here in Philippians 4? Was it a summing up of the whole letter? Perhaps. Or could it also connect with the real life drama going on between these two women? Looking at where we?ve come from?talking about the Judaizers wishing to draw the Philippians back into Law obedience and away from the gospel of freedom?I wonder if the dispute between them might have had something to do with that. Maybe it goes further back to Chapter 2, verses 1-4 about the problem of ambition getting in the way of agape love. Both of these problems involve elevating the self?either by position or by behavior.
Perhaps either Euodia or Syntyche might have fallen prey to either or both of these. In that case, this portion takes on an even fuller meaning. Paul is then saying: stand firm against legalism and selfish ambition and remember that you are dear friends, not enemies. Don?t fall into worry or harshness with one another ? but instead devote yourselves to being gracious in your words and thankful in your prayers.
This is a good word to us when other people offend us. We need to remember that the gospel is the most important thing, not whether other people behave as you expect them to or treat you with the proper respect.